After the Strike: Tactics and Strategies of the Iranian Retaliation

Andrew McGregor

September 27, 2012

Let’s begin with the assumption that Israel can overcome the logistical and political hurdles involved in mounting an attack on Iran’s nuclear development facilities, either unilaterally or in cooperation with the United States. Unlike earlier strikes on Syrian and Iraqi nuclear facilities, Iran will certainly retaliate for any attack on its soil. Given that both Israel and the United States, individually or in combination, could easily subdue the armed forces available to the Islamic Republic, what forms could Iranian retaliation take?

Iran 1Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi

Rather than play the victim in its dispute with Israel, Iran has taken an aggressive tone in its response to threats of a military strike. On September 19 Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi suggested that Israel was trying to cover up domestic problems by pursuing the rhetoric of war, adding that Iran is “able to wipe the [Israeli] regime off the scene” with its defensive capabilities (IRNA September 19; Fars News Agency, September 20). Vahidi and other Iranian leaders have been taking advantage of the annual “Week of Sacred Defense” commemoration of the Islamic Republic’s war with Iraq in the 1980s to remind interested parties of Iran’s successful eight year defense against the U.S. supported Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein (, September 22). However, such rhetoric is common from Iranian sources; the question remains as to whether Iran can back up its threats of massive retaliation.

The Missile Response

With a direct land-based retaliatory attack on Israel rendered impossible by geography and military considerations, Iran’s best chance for a direct blow to Israel lies in the possibility of Iranian long-range ballistic missiles penetrating Israel’s Arrow anti-ballistic-missile system and the much-heralded Iron Dome missile defense system. While the latter system has proved effective, its main weakness is its expense and inability to bring down more than a percentage of a mass missile barrage. Bringing down a cheap homemade rocket from Gaza can cost far more than the potential damage the rocket could inflict. Potential opponents of Israel such as Hezbollah now possess enhanced missile capabilities that make strikes on Tel Aviv and other urban centers in Israel a genuine possibility. A barrage of cheaper or smaller rockets from several directions at once might sufficiently tax Israel’s air defense systems to allow an Iranian ballistic missile with a conventional or non-conventional warhead to penetrate Israeli defense systems.

Besides the surface-to-surface Sejjil missiles and medium-range Shahab-3 ballistic missile with a range of up to 2,000 km, Iran has recently deployed upgraded versions of its twenty-year-old Zelzal rockets, which have a range of 300 km. To prepare for possible missile attacks on Israel a joint U.S.-Israeli missile defense exercise is expected to be held later this fall after the operation was delayed earlier this year (Financial Times, September 17). Militants based in Hamas-ruled Gaza, Israel’s weakest opponent, continue to fire missiles across the Israeli border despite scores of air raids, assassinations and even a 2009 deterrent raid that killed upwards of 1300 people.

According to Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Major-General Muhammad Ali Aziz Jaafari, the U.S. military presence in the region will actually work against them as it brings U.S. military targets within range of Iranian counter-strikes (Tehran Times, September 16). General Jaafari has revealed that Iran does not believe Israel will succeed in persuading the United States to join in an attack on Iran but will nevertheless hold the United States responsible for any strike on its nuclear or military facilities (al-Sharq al-Awsat, September 21). Jaafari also remains confident of Iran’s ability to carry out effective missile strikes on Israel: “I think nothing will remain of Israel (should it attack Iran). Given Israel’s small land area and its vulnerability to a massive volume of Iran’s missiles, I don’t think any spot in Israel will remain safe” (Fars News Agency, September 16).

Iranian Air Defense

Iran’s ancient assembly of obsolete Soviet and American-built warplanes would be quick work for modern Israeli or American aircraft and would therefore be unlikely to be deployed in a conflict with these nations. However, if Israel were to conduct a unilateral attack, their aircraft would experience moments of vulnerability during the mid-air refueling required to get their aircraft to Iranian targets and back. Israel has conducted air exercises designed to counter such threats.

Iran 2 Ra'dIran’s R’ad Air Defense System

After the recent “successful testing” of Iran’s Ra’d air defense system, IRGC Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh said the system “has been manufactured with the aim of confronting [hostile] U.S. aircraft and can hit targets at a distance of 50 kilometers and at an altitude of 75,000 feet (22,860 meters)” (Tehran Times, September 24). The Iranian-built Ra’d system has not been used in a combat situation and will be subject to countermeasures available to Israeli or American aircraft, but unlike Qaddafi, Iran’s military and political leaders are not likely to hesitate to give the order to fire on foreign aircraft in Iranian airspace.

Asymmetric Responses

Attacks on Israeli facilities, institutions or individuals around the world by the IRGC, Iranian sympathizers or even other elements taking advantage of the situation to press their own political agendas would threaten to spread a potential conflict far beyond the Middle East. A covert war between Israel and Iran is already underway and can be easily intensified in the event of open conflict. This represents an open-ended threat that cannot be dealt with simply through the application of overwhelming air-power or incursions by land forces.
In the event of an attack on Iran, Iranian sympathizers and government agents will agitate public opinion in Muslim capitals around the world, fueling international condemnation of Iran’s attackers through violent demonstrations and attacks on Israeli and American institutions. Should such attacks turn bloody through the efforts of security agencies to restore order these disturbances could take on a life of their own, creating security issues and diplomatic crises that would sap public will to pursue a war or create internal political dissent. Recent anti-American demonstrations in the Middle East have demonstrated that regional governments may lack the will or the ability to restrain an anti-Western backlash.

The Naval Response

Iran 3 IRGNavyIRGCN Speedboats

Most of the Iranian naval response would be in the hands of the smaller missile-equipped boats of the highly-trained and motivated Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy (IRGCN) rather than the conventional and often outdated ships of the regular Iranian Navy.
Iran’s oft-stated intention of closing the Strait of Hormuz to commercial traffic, primarily oil shipments, is no secret. According to General Jaafari: “If a war breaks out where one side is Iran and the other side is the West and the U.S., it’s natural that a problem should occur in the Strait of Hormuz. Export of energy will be harmed. It’s natural that this will happen” (Fars News Agency, September 16).

Though it is frequently pointed out that Iran would itself suffer greatly by closing the Strait, it is likely that the Iranian command has recognized that in the event of a war Iranian oil could only be shipped with U.S. sufferance. With the United States unlikely to be so generous, the Iranian command may have come to the conclusion it has nothing to lose by closing the Strait, which would at least bring international pressure to bear on finding a quick resolution to the conflict. Domestic support for a U.S. role in the conflict could falter as rapidly rising petroleum prices drive a fragile economy into recession. Of course closing the Strait is not without risk and could incite the entry of the most affected countries (Kuwait, Iraq, Oman and Qatar) into a larger Sunni Arab – Shiite Iranian conflict.
Speedboat attacks could cause a certain amount of mayhem in the narrow confines of the Straits, but are unlikely threaten U.S. naval ships in any significant way. Analogies to the 2000 USS Cole attack are meaningless; if the Cole had been on security alert or felt endangered by the skiff approaching its side the smaller craft would have been quickly blown out of the water. With air surveillance support, American warships have ample short-range defenses to deal with aggressive craft should they succeed in coming within attacking range. Rather than attack warships, Iran’s fleet of small missile boats would be better employed in attacking civilian shipping in the Gulf. Attacks on oil tankers in particular would cause economic havoc in the international markets.

In the last few months the United States has doubled the number of minesweepers it maintains in the Gulf, sent a second aircraft carrier to the region two months ahead of schedule and deployed the USS Ponce, an amphibious transport dock that can be used as a staging base for Special Forces operations or as a carrier for MH-53 helicopters in a minesweeping role (Financial Times, September 17).

A large-scale de-mining exercise, the September 16-27 International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX), involving ships from the United States, Britain, Japan, France, Jordan, Yemen and other nations was designed to test a variety of anti-mine techniques to address the Iranian threat to close the vital Strait of Hormuz with fixed or floating mines (Hurriyet, September 17). General Jaafari downplayed the significance of the exercise (at least in public), describing it as “defensive” in nature: “We don’t perceive any threats from it” (Reuters, September 17).

Soft Warfare

Iran’s response will not be limited to military activities. An important part of its strategic planning is dedicated to Iran’s “Soft War” concept, which describes an alternative form of warfare that, in the hands of Iran’s enemies, is dedicated to eroding the legitimacy of the Islamic republic by changing the cultural and Islamic identity of Iranian society. To handle Iran’s response to such attacks, a special “Unit of the Soft War” (Setad-e Jang-e Narm) was created in 2011 as a branch of the Basiji militia. Iranian Soft War counter-measures include propaganda, education, media manipulation and the management of electronic information access (for a full description of the “Soft War” concept, see Terrorism Monitor, June 12, 2010). General Jaafari remarked in early September that soft warfare was more dangerous than conventional warfare and urged university and seminary students and faculty to prepare to deal with the soft warfare strategy employed by Iran’s enemies (Tehran Times, September 2).

Social Networking may provide a unique and innovative way of organizing hundreds or even thousands of points of simultaneous resistance to an attack on Iran in a variety of forms ranging from public demonstrations to civil resistance to armed activities or terrorist attacks. The drawn-out nature of the dispute over Iran’s nuclear capabilities and intent has allowed Iran’s global intelligence network to prepare a broad “soft warfare” response to any attack.

Border Defense

In the event of land-based incursions into Iran, the Deputy Commander of the Iranian Army, Brigadier General Abdolrahim Mousavi, has promised Iran’s borders will be defended by a combination of the regular Iranian Army, the IRGC and the Basiji Force (a lightly-armed but highly motivated militia) (Press TV, September 23).

Iran enhanced its border defenses in March with the introduction of the Shaparak (Butterfly) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), though the drone has an operational radius of only 31 miles and a flight time of three and a half hours. Since then Iran has added the Shaed-129, which can remain in the air for 24 hours and deliver strikes with its Sadid missiles (Fars News Agency, September 16). The most important drone in the Iranian arsenal is the Karrar (Striker), a turbojet-powered drone capable of long-range reconnaissance and attack missions with a flight range of 1,000 km at low or high altitudes. The four-meter long drone can be deployed on the back of a truck to a ground-launch position where it can be fired with the aid of a jet-fuelled take-off system (see Terrorism Monitor Brief, November 25, 2010; Ressalat [Tehran], August 23, 2010; Vatan-e Emrooz [Tehran], August 23, 2010).

Possible Foreign Support for Iran

In observing the current North American coverage of the approaching crisis it is easy to assume that the whole world, or most of it, is resolutely opposed to Iran. This, however, is not the case, as shown by the 120 nations that attended the Non-Aligned Movement conference held in early September in Tehran despite calls from Western nations for a boycott. Iran is aware of the political value even a defeat could have for the Islamic Republic in the international arena. As suggested in a feature carried by Iran’s state-owned Press TV: “In the impossible event that all goes well for Israel on the battlefield, the suffering of the people of Iran would probably shame the world into turning against Zionism even more sharply than the world turned against apartheid in the 1980s” (Press TV, September 21).

In the state of heightened tension and trepidation that would follow an Israeli attack, incidents that might otherwise be dealt with at an appropriate level could easily precipitate a chain of events leading to the entry of other nations or militant groups into a wider war. Following a series of international incidents, Turkey’s ruling AKP government has gone from shifted from being Israel’s military ally to an increasingly hostile neighbor. Ankara is seriously disturbed by Iran’s role in Syria and demonstrated its dissatisfaction by recently keeping Iran’s national security chief cooling his heels for half an hour prior to a meeting in the office of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Nevertheless, in the unpredictable environment that would emerge from an Israeli attack on Iran it is entirely possible that some incident could drag Turkey into a larger war, whether as a result of a government decision, national security concerns or popular pressure. While Israel displays little respect for the militaries of Iran or the Arab world, Turkey’s powerful, well-trained, well-armed and battle-experienced armed forces are another matter. Certainly, as a NATO member, an entry into the conflict by Turkey could immeasurably complicate the entire situation.

With a large Palestinian population and a growing Islamist movement, Jordan represents another Israeli neighbor that might find itself hard-pressed to resist popular pressure to retaliate in some form if Israel attacks Iran, possibly by annulling its peace treaty with Israel. Jordan is pursuing its own nuclear power program, which is much needed as a dependable replacement for unreliable natural gas supplies from Egypt and to fuel desalinization plants required to provide the arid nation with water. Jordan’s King Abdullah II recently complained that: “strong opposition to Jordan’s nuclear energy program is coming from Israel… When we started going down the road of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, we approached some highly responsible countries to work with us. And pretty soon we realized that Israel was putting pressure on those countries to disrupt any cooperation with us” (AFP, September 12).

So long as the volatility in Syria and the Sinai continues, there is ample opportunity for unintentional clashes or planned provocations to light the charge for a wider conflict. Under Egypt’s new Muslim Brotherhood government there is daily discussion of revising or even abandoning Egypt’s three-decade-old peace treaty with Israel. If Israel became entangled in battling Gaza militants or dealing with a new Palestinian intifada in the West Bank there would be enormous pressure both on the street and in the halls of government for Egypt to provide a military response. Hezbollah’s success in the 2006 summer war changed attitudes in the Middle East. The once-common perception of an invincible Israel with unlimited military and logistical support from the world’s largest superpower has not existed since Israel’s failed effort to destroy Hezbollah, which not only repulsed the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), but did so without even having to call up its reserves. While Israel has worked hard to revise its battlefield tactics and took advantage of its 2009 incursion into Gaza to field-test them in what amounted to a massive live-fire exercise considering the lack of resistance encountered, the IDF has lost much of its ability to intimidate the Arab opposition. The ascendance of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt has also been a game-changer; no longer can Israel expect the silence of a corrupt and self-indulgent regime fattening itself on American aid. Today there is a growing assumption in Egypt that billions of dollars in American military aid will not last much longer, paired with a recognition that Egypt must develop its own arms industry if it is to pursue an independent foreign policy.

Disaffected Shiite populations in eastern Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, while not necessarily following directives from Tehran, could still take advantage of a collapsing security situation to press their demands for economic and political reforms. Such instability in Bahrain would not prevent operations by the U.S. Sixth Fleet based there, but would prove politically embarrassing at an extremely sensitive time. If violence can sweep the Muslim world because of the actions of Florida Quran burners and Californian immigrant film-makers, imagine the violence that would follow a carefully manufactured false-flag operation or other provocation designed to draw various countries or populations into a new Middle East conflict.


Despite the Middle East’s vast energy resources, reserves are declining in some areas and have nearly expired in others. Some major nations, like Egypt and Iraq, are largely or partially reliant on hydro-electric power that is threatened by huge new dams being built further upstream in Ethiopia and Turkey respectively. With even oil-rich Saudi Arabia intent on expanding its nuclear power capabilities before the oil runs out, it is clear that the future of the Middle East is nuclear. In these circumstances it would be impossible for Israel to continue a policy of pre-emptive strikes on potentially hostile neighbors to prevent the possibility of nuclear weapons development. Without the emergence of alternative energy supplies, even the deterrent effect of a successful Israeli strike on Iran will be short-lived in the region.

Iran has consistently exaggerated its military capability and the effectiveness of its weapons, so much of its rhetoric concerning its ability to retaliate to an Israeli or American attack must be taken with a grain of salt. In addition, much of the conventional response outlined above is subject to the operational survival of Iranian weapons systems to a unilateral or joint Israeli/U.S. strike, which would target Iranian missile silos and electrical systems nation-wide. Cyber-attacks could also be expected to destroy Iran’s ability to respond with sophisticated hardware or weapons. With these considerations it becomes clear that Iran’s most effective response will lie in the areas of asymmetric warfare and economic disruption. In the complicated world of the Middle East, Iran could still organize a broad retaliatory response that would effectively prevent an Iranian military defeat from translating into an Israeli victory.

This article first appeared in the September 27, 2012 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Intelligence Chief Abdullah al-Senussi Extradited to Libya to Reveal Secrets

Andrew McGregor

September 27, 2012

Libya’s most-wanted man, former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, was extradited to Libya on September 5, where he is expected to undergo intense and thorough interrogation by Libyan authorities and possibly security officials of some of the other nations in which al-Senussi is wanted for various major crimes such as terrorism, murder and kidnapping (Agence Mauritanienne d’Information, September 5).

abdullah al-senussiAbdullah al-Senussi

After several months of unconfirmed reports of arrests and escapes, al-Senussi was arrested in Nouakchott in March and eventually charged with illegal entry to Mauritania and the use of forged documents (AFP, September 5). Mauritanian authorities were initially reluctant to return al-Senussi, saying he would have to face the minor charges facing him in Mauritania first. Al-Senussi is now being held in the small maximum security Hudba al-Gassi prison in Tripoli, where many former members of the Qaddafi regime are being held. The current roster of prisoners in the facility includes three former Prime Ministers and former military intelligence chief Mustafa al-Kharroubi.

Before leaving Mauritania, Lebanese authorities succeeded in obtaining permission to interrogate as-Senussi regarding the disappearance in Tripoli of Lebanese Shiite leaders and Afwaj al-Muqawama al-Lubnaniya (AMAL) founder Imam Musa al-Sadr and two companions after a heated meeting with Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi in 1978. Lebanese sources described the session as “insufficient despite its importance” (al-Nahar [Beirut], September 1; September 4).

Al-Senussi, who faces the death penalty if convicted, is rumored to have been tortured on his arrival in Tripoli and to have attempted suicide while in Hudba al-Gassi, but these allegations were denied by the man responsible for keeping him behind bars, Khalid al-Sharif, a former member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and now the head of Libya’s National Guard (al-Sharq al-Awsat, September 20). Al-Senussi’s jailer maintains that his prisoner is kept in comfortable conditions and provided with appropriate food, but does admit al-Senussi had complained of “humiliations” such as having his trademark bushy hair shorn. Like his former LIFG colleague, Abd al-Hakim Belhadj, al-Sharif is reported to be a candidate for the post of Libyan Interior Minister, an appointment that would mark an utter reversal of the political status quo that existed in Libya for decades.
Al-Senussi was charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity in June 2011, but is expected to face similar charges in Libya rather than be extradited to the Hague. One issue of concern to Libyan authorities is determining the location of funds Qaddafi stored abroad before they are otherwise accessed or transferred. Al-Senussi is described as the primary defendant in the case surrounding the massacre of over 1,200 Libyan Islamists in Abu Salim prison in 1996. The trial of Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi (currently held by the Zintan militia) has been postponed until further evidence is gleaned from al-Senussi’s interrogation (Tripoli Post, September 7).

According to Libyan prosecutors, al-Senussi has already confessed to the 1993 murder of a leading member of the Libyan opposition, Mansur Rashid al-Kikhia (MENA [Cairo], September 11). A former Foreign Minister and UN Ambassador in the Qaddafi regime, al-Kikhia was not seen again after being kidnapped in Cairo where he was seeking political asylum. Based on al-Senussi’s information, a corpse was disinterred in the yard of a Tripoli villa and is currently undergoing DNA testing. Al-Sharif described the leak of al-Senussi’s confession as being deliberate and made for “humanitarian reasons”
As the man who best knows the secrets of the Libyan regime and who was responsible for carrying out the late Libyan dictator’s darkest plans, al-Senussi is wanted by a variety of nations, including France, where he was convicted in absentia for his role in the 1989 bombing of a French passenger plane that killed 170 people, and by Saudi Arabia, which suspects him of organizing a 2003 plot to assassinate Crown Prince Abdullah.
The United States and a number of international human rights organizations have urged that al-Senussi be given a fair trial, though it is unlikely that any of the possible outcomes of such proceedings could offer anything more than a grim or even short future for the former intelligence chief. Libya is now seeking the extradition of a number of former regime officials from Egypt and has sent a list of wanted individuals to the Egyptian public prosecutor (MENA [Cairo], September 23).

This article was first published in the September 27, 2012 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Former Militants of Egypt’s al-Gama’a al-Islamiya Struggle for Political Success

Andrew McGregor

September 27, 2012

For decades one of Egypt’s most violent extremist groups, al-Gama’a al-Islamiya (GI) is currently engaged in a struggle to establish itself as an Islamist political party in post-revolutionary Egypt. Though traditionally a Salafist-Jihadi movement, GI has not established close relations with al-Nur, the largest of Egypt’s Salafist political parties. Nor is it close to the Muslim Brotherhood, which recently ignored the movement in the distribution of senior government posts.

Assem Abd al-MajedAl-Gama’a al-Islamiya Spokesman Assem Abd al-Maged

On September 17, a GI spokesman announced that the movement had formed “al-Ansar,” a new movement drawing on young people of various Islamist trends to protect the reputation of the Prophet Muhammad by producing films about Christianity and Judaism and starting a publishing house and satellite channel to support this effort (al-Masry al-Youm [Cairo], September 17).

While the movement continues to work on its conversion to a political party, it appears not to have abandoned its commitment to jihad, at least beyond Egypt’s borders. GI spokesman Assem Abd al-Maged has stated that GI members were travelling to Syria to join the anti-Assad revolt and that three Egyptians affiliated to the movement were recently killed in battle in Syria. A spokesman for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) confirmed the participation of Egyptians in the armed opposition but noted that these fighters had not revealed their political affiliations (Anadolu Ajansi [Ankara], September 8; al-Masry al-Youm [Cairo], August 26; September 9). The GI has also attempted to insert itself into the security crisis in the Sinai by sending a delegation to meet with tribal and religious leaders in the region in early September (Al-Ahram Weekly, August 30 – September 5).

The GI is taking a hard stand on Egyptian-American relations, having urged Egyptian president Muhammad Mursi to cancel his September 23 visit to the United States to address the United Nations. Suggesting that the anti-Islamic film The Innocence of Muslims was made under “American auspices,” GI spokesman Assem Abd al-Maged argued that Egypt did not need to worry about U.S. cuts in aid to Egypt as such cuts were “not in [the United States’] interest, as they know we are the superpower in the region” (al-Masry al-Youm [Cairo], September 16).

According to an official with the GI’s political wing, the Building and Development Party, the movement is prepared to sever its alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party following President Mursi’s failure to include GI members as presidential advisors, regional governors or members of the National Human Rights Council. The group was especially disturbed by its omission from the latter body, noting that the GI was “the faction persecuted most by the former regime, with 30,000 members having been arrested and 20 of them having died in prison due to torture and diseases” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, September 9; al-Masry al-Youm [Cairo], September 9). There has been some speculation in Egypt that the recent protests at the U.S. Embassy had less to do with anger over the anti-Muslim film than with an opportunity to embarrass the Mursi government after it failed to include the GI in the new government.

Though the Brothers may not be offering much in the way of political appointments, some veteran members of the GI are enjoying a bit of revisionary justice under the new regime. President Mursi pardoned 26 members of GI and its Islamic Jihad offshoot in July. Four members of GI who were sentenced to death in 1999 during Mubarak’s rule were released on September 5 pending a ruling in early November on their case. The four were among 43 Egyptians returned to Egypt through the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program after being sentenced to death in absentia in the “Albanian Returnees” case of 1999 (Ahram Online, September 5; al-Masry al-Youm [Cairo], September 7). The GI members had been charged with attempting to overthrow the government, killing civilians and targeting Christians and the tourism industry.

One of those released, Ahmad Refa’i Taha (indicted in the United States for his role in the 1999 U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa) has demanded an immediate pardon rather than wait for the November ruling, describing the case as “a huge insult to the revolution and revolutionaries…We are considered the first to fight the former regime, which nobody revolted against like us… We would like people to have shown some appreciation for those who opposed Mubarak and his regime” (al-Hayat, September 7).

Demands by the GI and other Islamist groups in Egypt and Libya for the release of former GI leader Shaykh Omar Abd al-Rahman from an American prison (where he is serving a life-term for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing) have been supported by President Mursi, who has asked for the shaykh’s release on humanitarian grounds.
In the coming parliamentary elections, GI may seek to capitalize on growing rifts within al-Nur, the largest of the Salafist political parties (Ahram Online, September 25). According to GI leader Aboud al-Zomor, the movement will seek to form new alliances prior to the elections and is determined to increase the handful of seats won in last year’s contest (al-Masry al-Youm [Cairo], August 30). Aboud and his brother Tarek, both prominent GI leaders, were released from prison in March, 2011 after having been convicted in 1984 for their admitted roles in planning the assassination of former Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat. Aboud has since apologized, not for killing Sadat, but for creating the conditions that led to Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian 30-year rule.

This article first appeared in the September 27, 2012 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Kenyan Navy Softens Up Kismayo Prior to AMISOM Attack

Andrew McGregor

September 13, 2012

Kenya’s navy continues to play an important role in the multi-national struggle against Somalia’s al-Qaeda affiliated al-Shabaab movement by shelling the Shabaab-held port of Kismayo in southern Somalia. These operations come at a time when Kenya is making significant upgrades to its naval capacity through purchase or donation. These upgrades are intended to enhance Kenya’s ability to carry out anti-piracy and counter-terrorism operations in the Indian Ocean.

KNS 1KNS Harambee II

Kismayo’s port operations and lucrative charcoal trade are the main source of revenue for al-Shabaab since it pulled out of Mogadishu last year. Other forces that have gathered around Kismayo in preparation for the final assault include Ugandan and Burundian AMISOM troops, Somali government forces and the local Ras Kamboni militia of Ahmad Muhammad Islam “Madobe,” which were expelled from Kismayo by al-Shabaab in 2009. British experts are reported to have played a facilitating role in planning sessions for the assault on Kismayo held in Nairobi and attended by Ugandan AMISOM commander Lieutenant General Andrew Gutti (Daily Nation [Nairobi], September 4).

Since Kenya joined the campaign against al-Shabaab with Operation Linda Nchi in October, 2011, the Kenyan navy has participated in naval operations designed to restrict al-Shabaab supplies of arms and fuel, secure Kenyan waters from terrorist infiltrators and deter piracy (see Terrorism Monitor, November 11, 2011). While the Kenyan Army deployment in Somalia formally joined the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) on June 11, the Kenyan Navy and Air Force (which has also carried out bombing operations over Kismayo) were not included in the agreement and thus do not come under the Ugandan-dominated AMISOM command structure.

Kenyan warships are now playing an important role degrading the defenses and military capacity of those al-Shabaab militants who have not seized the opportunity to join the civilian flight out of Kismayo. There are reports that al-Shabaab has attempted to stiffen its resistance by bringing in hundreds of reinforcements in armored vehicles ( [Mogadishu], September 7). Even if al-Shabaab is forced to make a strategic withdrawal from Kismayo, occupying AMISOM forces are almost certain to be met by improvised explosive devices, land-mines and ambushes by hidden militants (after the pattern of  Mogadishu).

After reportedly being provoked by an al-Shabaab gunboat, a Kenyan navy ship fired ten rounds on Kismayo on September 3, while the port area and airport were shelled the next day (Daily Nation [Nairobi], September 5; VOA, September 4; BBC, September 4). Kenyan ships fired on what they believed to be a Kismayo arms cache on September 5, killing a reported seven Shabaab militants and destroying a stockpile of “technicals” [armored battle wagons], arms and munitions (RFI, September 6). Residents of the town said the attack began shortly after the militants had dragged the bodies of four Kenyan soldiers killed in the battle for Afmadow into the town square for public display (RFI, September 6). A Kenyan ship fired on a Shabaab anti-aircraft emplacement on September 11.

In the last few months Kenya has added two ships to its fleet that will significantly enhance its naval strength. In June, France donated the 1976 vintage patrol boat La Rieuse, one of ten ships of the P400 class used to patrol the waters of its overseas possessions. Equipped with a 40mm cannon, La Rieuse operated in the Indian Ocean from the French base at Réunion. Most of the P400 class are now being decommissioned, but La Rieuse (now renamed KNS Harambee II) was donated in the interests of helping Kenya carry out high seas security operations (, June 7;, June 10).

KNS 2KNS Jasiri

Kenya has also finally taken possession of the 140-ton Jasiri, a Spanish-built oceanographic survey vessel that has been fitted with naval guns, missiles, machine-guns and radar and communications systems, making it the most powerful ship on the East African coast (Nairobi Star, August 30). The ship was supposed to be delivered in 2005, but the purchase became entangled in Kenya’s Anglo-Leasing corruption scandal. As a result, the ship sat without maintenance in a Spanish dock for seven years. A Kenyan delegation arrived to complete the deal in February but instead rejected the ship on the grounds that much of the equipment was outdated and no longer functioning. After an unsuccessful attempt to sell the ship to the Nigerian Navy, Kenya finally negotiated a deal with the Jasiri’s builders, Euromarine Industries (Nairobi Star, April 27).

Mombasa, the Kenyan Navy’s main port, was consumed by deadly street riots when the Jasiri arrived following the assassination of Muslim preacher Aboud Rogo Muhammad, a well-known supporter of al-Shabaab. A statement issued by al-Shabaab urged Kenyan Muslims to “take all necessary measures to protect their religion, their honor, their property and their lives from the enemies of Islam” (AFP, August 29).

Nonetheless, Kenyan Chief of Defense Forces, General Julius Karangi, warned that the arrival of the Jasiri had shifted the power equation on the East African coast: “Jasiri has capabilities and capacities that we did not have. If there are some people out there thinking they can come to our waters and worry us, let them know that things can get very tough for them” (Africa Review [Nairobi], August 31). The Navy has not yet announced whether the Jasiri will participate in the Kismayo operation, but its deployment there seems likely after trials are carried out.

This article first appeared in the September 13, 2012 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

South Sudan’s Yau Yau Rebellion Creating Insecurity in Jonglei State

Andrew McGregor

September 13, 2012

Rebellions in remote regions of South Sudan continue to plague efforts to restore security in the new nation and further a disarmament process that is ironically being cited as one of the primary causes of the latest disturbance in South Sudan’s Jonglei State.  The so-called Yau Yau Rebellion, named for its leader, failed politician David Yau Yau, has brought many youth belonging to South Sudan’s Murle tribe into direct conflict with troops of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the former rebel group that now forms the national army of South Sudan.

Murle 1David Yau Yau

A former theology student, Yau Yau was defeated by a SPLM candidate in the April 2010 elections. Rather than accept defeat, Yau Yau gathered disaffected youth of the Jonglei-based Murle tribe and launched an attack on Pibor in May, 2010, killing several SPLA soldiers. He continued to mount ambushes on SPLA troops and South Sudan wildlife rangers until 2011, when he agreed to a ceasefire. [1] During his reintegration with the SPLM government, Yau Yau received the usual reward for rebels who have given up their struggle—a general’s rank in the SPLA, despite Yau Yau’s utter lack of military experience.

The SPLA reported in April that Yau Yau had fled to Khartoum, presumably to obtain aid for a new rebellion from the government of Omar al-Bashir, which has been engaged in a proxy war with the South for several years (Sudan Tribune, April 8). Yau Yau has since enjoyed some success in fighting on his own turf in Pibor County (south-west Jonglei State). On August 23, Yau Yau’s men were joined by armed civilians in killing as many as 40 SPLA soldiers looking for the rebel leader in the Lekuangole Payam district of Pibor (Miraya FM [Juba], August 27; Upper Nile Times, August 27 ). In the aftermath of the attack, the commander of the SPLA’s Division 8, Major General Botros Bol Bol, vowed that “Yau Yau will die like [George] Athor… they will not escape from our hands,” while Governor Manyang said the army had been instructed to teach the rebels “a lesson they will never forget” (Sudan Tribune, August 28). [2] That lesson was postponed when Yau Yau’s men attacked SPLA troops again on August 30 (Sudan Tribune, August 30).

SPLA troops involved in disarming the Murle (who fought in pro-government militias against the SPLA during the civil war) have been accused of committing numerous rapes and using various methods of torture and coercion to get Murle tribesmen to reveal where their weapons are hidden during the disarmament campaign, though an SPLA spokesman described such reports as “lies” (Sudan Tribune, August 27, August 30; BBC, May 25).

However, Jonglei governor Kuol Manyang played down the possibility the violence was connected to SPLA excesses in the disarmament process: “It is not revenge, it is a rebellion.” The governor suggested that human rights violations amongst the Murle could be the work of “individuals” amongst the 8,000 SPLA soldiers deployed in the Pibor region (Sudan Tribune, August 27). Manyang has stated that Khartoum is the sole source of arms for Yau Yau’s forces and claims that helicopters are hidden in the bush that are used to resupply the rebels (Sudan Radio Service, August 31; Sudan Times, August 30).

Murle 2The Murle (Compass Media/Jeroen van Loon)

Most of the Murle live in the Upper Nile lowlands, though smaller groups live in the highlands of the Boma Plateau and across the border in southern Ethiopia, from whence they came in the 19th century. Their pastoral lifestyle has often brought them into conflict with other pastoralists in South Sudan over scarce resources. There are also residual tensions from the civil war, in which many Murle fought against the SPLA in Major General Ismail Konyi’s pro-Khartoum Pibor Defense Forces (South Sudan News Agency, March 18). Cattle-raiding is endemic amongst the tribes of Jonglei State and has grown worse with the proliferation of automatic weapons during the civil war, but it is the Murle proclivity for abducting hundreds of children annually that has enraged their neighbors. The cause of the abductions appears to be widespread infertility amongst the Murle, which is commonly believed to be caused by an epidemic of syphilis, though very little serious research has been carried out to discover the precise reasons for the problem, which appears to be long-standing—some Nuer claim the abductions began in the 17th century (Bor Globe, April 9; South Sudan News Agency, January 5).

In late December, 2011, a Nuer militia of over 6,000 men known as the Nuer White Army (NWA) launched “Operation Ending Murle Abductions” with the assistance of some 900 Twic-Dinka youth eager to end the pattern of Murle child-abductions and who were credited with providing the intelligence behind the successful rescue of 35 abductees. [3]

A NWA statement issued during the January campaign against the Murle offered a novel solution to the Murle infertility problem:

[The] Murle cannot increase their population by abducting Nuer, Anuak and Dinka’s children. If Murle’s women have fertility problem, the Nuer and Dinka are willing to accept intermarriage with Murle. The Dinka, Nuer and Murle’s chiefs can sit down and talk about intermarriage to assist our Murle brothers to increase their population if their women are not procreating. The chiefs can decide the number of cattle a Murle man should pay as dowries to marry a Dinka or Nuer girl (South Sudan News Agency, January 5).

The NWA was formed by Riek Machar (current vice-president of South Sudan) during the 1991 split within the SPLA, which saw many Nuer under Machar’s command join Khartoum’s loyalists in South Sudan in reaction to perceived Dinka dominance of the independence movement. The NWA, composed largely of young Lou Nuer civilians, used their official sanction to turn their arms against traditional regional enemies, such as the Bor Dinka and the Murle. Machar found it difficult to disband the youth after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005. The battle-hardened veterans of the SPLA were more persuasive, slaughtering over a hundred of the NWA in May, 2005, bringing a temporary halt to the movement’s activities. [4]

The NWA today reject Riek Machar as a Nuer leader and hold him responsible for arming the Murle after siding with Khartoum in the civil war. The NWA operates outside the traditional tribal power structure, which has created friction with the community it purports to represent. In a statement released earlier this year, the NWA suggested the UN not waste its time talking to a “tiny minority, like chiefs, elders, pastors and politicians,” and further warned that if South Sudanese President Salva Kiir “wants to avoid what happened to Muammar Qaddafi, he should not mess with the Nuer White Army.”  [5]

One of the organizers of the December-January raids on the Murle was Dak Kueth, a Lou Nuer “magician” who headed for the Ethiopian border with 200 armed men rather than submit to SPLA disarmament, committing further attacks on the way. In late June, Dak Kueth’s group became trapped between SPLA forces and Ethiopian troops, forcing the entire group to surrender to the Ethiopians. Some of those detained were Ethiopian nationals from the Nuer community of western Ethiopia’s Gambela district, but Dak Kueth and the Sudanese Nuer were turned over to the SPLA (Sudan Tribune, April 17; June 27).

Led by Lieutenant General Kuol Deim Kuol, the disarmament campaign that began in March has been hampered by difficult terrain, a lack of roads and Murle fears that they will be defenseless in the face of further attacks from the Nuer and Dinka (Sudan Tribune, April 17). As many as 100,000 people remain displaced after the tribal clashes of December 2011 and January 2012, in which 1,000 to 3,000 people were killed.

This article first appeared in the September 13, 2012 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor